Episode 30: Kulap Vilaysack (Voted #5 Ep of 2011)
You’ve seen her on The Office and I Love You Man, and you’ve heard her as the co-host of the podcast Who Charted? Kulap talks about her chaotic upbringing by immigrant Laotian parents and the battle today to overcome the memories that haunt her. They discuss her involvment in a little known therapy called the Grinberg Method and what she does today to find peace.
Welcome to Episode 30 with my guest Kulap Vilaysack. My name is Paul Gilmartin, and this is the Mental Illness Happy Hour: an hour of honesty about all the battles in our heads, from medically diagnosed conditions to everyday compulsive negative thinking, feelings of dissatisfaction, disconnection, inadequacy, and that vague sinking feeling that the world is passing us by. You give us an hour, and we'll give you a little awkward and icky. As I've mentioned before, this show is not meant to be a substitute for medical diagnosis; I'm just a jackass that tells dick jokes and hopefully brings a little smile to your face for an hour or an hour and half, so you feel a little less broken and a little less alone.
First, a few notes before we get to that great interview with Kulap. Our Amazon search box is back up on the website, our website being
mentalpod.com. So if you want to support the show financially in addition to making PayPal donations through our website, you can now buy stuff at Amazon by going through our site to do that. We have a search box on the homepage and Amazon gives us a little taste. It doesn't cost you anything. I highly recommend it; in fact, we also have a favorites page on the website and one of the favorite books that I have is called A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle. I've mentioned it before on this podcast.
I'd like to kick things off with a little quote from Eckhart. He is talking about the ego and how most of our problems in life come from us trying to protect our ego, rather than allowing it to diminish because that's where the real freedom is, once we allow our egos to diminish. Then, "being," as he calls it can really come about. It sounds like a lot of New Age horseshit but it really does work. He says, "[…] when someone criticizes you, blames you, or calls you names, instead of immediately retaliating or defending yourself - do nothing. Allow the self-image to remain diminished and become alert to what that feels like deep inside you. For a few seconds, it may feel uncomfortable, as if you had shrunk in size. Then you may sense an inner spaciousness that feels intensely alive. You haven't been diminished at all. In fact, you have been expanded." Pretty deep shit.
As I've shared on this show before, I play hockey and that's kind of a litmus test for how together I am, how easily I get angered when I'm out there because for some reason, when my adrenaline is pumping, I take shit really seriously and I think I'm kind of a competitive prick sometimes. I'm stuck on a team on Tuesday nights, that is sometimes not only not good, but horrible. We're horrible. And Tuesday night it was like we were children playing keep away with adults. Just literally didn't even touch the puck. Trying as hard as I could and I thought about the thing that Eckhart Tolle had written about, about allowing the ego to be diminished, and I was sitting there on the bench, closed my eyes, I took a deep breath, and realized that I had no control over these people. But that didn't stop me from yelling, "Skate, you lazy motherfuckers!" and then two minutes later begging their forgiveness.
PG: I'm here with Kulap Vilaysack -- am I pronouncing it correctly?
KV: You are, you're doing a great job.
PG: I've known Kulap for probably about six or seven years. I guess we probably met through Jimmy Pardo, who is good friends with your husband, Scott Aukerman. I mean I know Scott as well, but I think we kind of met through the UCB probably about five or six years ago. Does that sound about right?
KV: Sounds about right, unless -- I feel like you did standup at M Bar before that.
PG: I did. That was kind of the precursor to the UCB theater. UCB stands for Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Kind of a hotbed of the alternative comedy scene in Los Angeles. Scott was a writer on Mr. Show and started Comedy Death Ray which was kind of the preeminent and still kind of is the preeminent standup place for the alternative scene.
KV: It's turned into Comedy Bang Bang. The name got changed, but it's close. It's very similar.
PG: It's very similar.
KV: Almost not worth mentioning.
PG: But let's talk about you. You're an actor and comedian, you've appeared on The Office, Reno 911, the movie Love You Man, and you have this great new podcast called Who Charted? that you host with Howard Kramer. Am I missing any other credits that people would know you from?
KV: Perhaps The Sarah Silverman Program.
PG: The Sarah Silverman Program.
KV: Children's Hospital this year.
PG: Were those fun to do?
KV: It’s like hanging out with friends.
PG: Is there anything better?
KV: No, I love to do that every day.
PG: You know, there are these moments in show business that for me are kind of few and far between, where everything clicks, where it's creatively fun and the people that are in charge are fun and maybe they're even your friends, and it's the reason you got into show business. You're making each other laugh and you're being creative and you feel like you are exactly where you should be at that moment in the universe and your life.
KV: Maybe some of your listeners don’t know that a lot of the stuff we do gets compromised, be it --
PG: Really compromised.
KV: Compromised by -- who knows what it is. It could be a studio, it could be anything really, but when a vision stays intact it's thrilling to be a part of.
PG: It really is and you don't want the day to end and you just feel cozy and warm and creative and those are great moments. For me the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater is kind of one of those things. It's like a cocoon, hanging out in the green room back there and all these great people will be walking through the green room, Patton Oswalt will be on stage. John Hamm from Mad Men just sits down and hangs out and we're busting each other's balls and it's a really cool thing. One of the things about being in show business, is this gnawing thing that I think everybody gets that they are not in the right place at the right time, and they should be doing something else, and that something is going on without you. Do you get that feeling?
KV: You know, I'm lucky enough to have gone through the training at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and I've been with the Theater, pretty much since it started. I think what I've noticed with my other friends who are just straight actors; they don't have a sense of community that I've come up with. Granted, I have the uncanny ability to feel and act alone even when I'm amongst a great many of people, but for the most part I feel like I have a family.
PG: Back up and be more specific about what you just said: the ability to feel --
KV: Alone? I was an only child for a very long time. My parents are immigrants.
PG: You're Laotian American.
KV: I was born in DC right after my mom escaped. She came from a refugee camp in Thailand and that's where I was conceived.
PG: Is she Laotian or Thai?
KV: She's Laotian. She escaped -- just to back up even further -- she was a student in Vientiane Laos, studying to be a nurse, and this was at the end of the Vietnam War. And so the Americans had left and the new regime -- the Communist regime -- was stamping out any possible uprisings and kind of getting rid of people who didn't agree with them.
PG: Anybody who leaned toward the West was considered bourgeois.
KV: Exactly, and so there were stories and you'd be at the dorm and people would just disappear and you would never see them again. They were killed or they were taken to work camps. This was just a reality. And so she and my --
PG: Is this similar to what was happening with the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia? Was this organized by the same people, or was this is coincidentally a whole part of that?
KV: It's more coincidentally. I mean, I think, looking back on the history, Pol Pot was horrifying. It's not quite that level, but I'm sure that the people to whom atrocities happened in Laos maybe wouldn't agree with me. But yeah, people just disappeared and so she and her uncle and my father—
PG: Forgive me for being ignorant. Did Laos fall to the communists?
KV: It did.
KV: I think most people know that Laos was a training ground for what people called "the secret war."
PG: As Cambodia was, because it was right on the border of Vietnam and was like "oh okay. Congress says we can't do such and such in Vietnam, so we can just stage it out in Cambodia."
KV: That's why there are a lot of Hmong people that have immigrated to America because they were the hill tribes, and they were very involved with the US military and the staging there.
PG: Did the Hmong people have a beef with the Laotian government. And that's why they became friendly with the American government to fight?
KV: Yes, they are viewed as less than. They're disenfranchised. They are viewed as hill people. They have a different language. They are not considered Lao. I liken them to the Kurds. They originally came from China and they just got pushed around in the mountains, basically.
PG: Like Gypsies.
KV: Yeah. In a way.
PG: Is it fair to assume that the majority of Laotian refugees that came to America are Hmong? Or is that not—
KV: I wonder. I mean, there are certainly a lot.
PG: Of all the Hmong people, are most from Laos, or all of them from Laos originally?
KV: I think that most are from Laos and Thailand, I would say. That's just my experience.
PG: So, your family, is it fair to say, has a kind of genetically encoded history of feeling like outsiders?
KV: Yeah. Are we outsiders or are we… the Lao people are very–
PG: I mean the Hmong people.
KV: The Hmong people, yes. I'm not Hmong, though. Should I clarify that?
PG: I didn't catch that. I thought that you were saying that--
KV: I'm not Hmong.
PG: Well, the interview is over, then because I am only interested in having comics with a Hmong background.
KV: Yeah, but I've seen the list of your prior guests and I didn't recognize any –
PG: That was before the law was enacted.
KV: There's a law?
PG: Oh yeah. There's a whole body. A voting body.
KV: Am I looking at that body right now? [Laughs.] Are you talking about your corporal body? [Laughs.]
PG: I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. So your family immigrated here – well no, back up. You're talking about the history of what was happening in Laos and your family escaping from that. Your mom was in college and people disappeared from the dorm.
KV: And so my father and her uncle –
PG: Were both parents from Laos?
KV: Yes. But I'm of mixed Southeast Asian descent. Chinese, East Indian, Thai. When I go to Laos people don't know that I am Lao. They also think that I'm a lady-boy but this is a comedy podcast.
PG: Comedy springs out organically and we applaud comedy. Sometimes this podcast desperately needs more comedy, but I try to avoid people feeling like they have to be on on this thing. But no, we love to laugh on this show.
KV: I went to Laos last time and they didn't know that I understood Lao and they called me a lady-boy at a wedding.
PG: What is up with that? You don't look like a dude.
KV: My –
PG: Let me ask you this: how big is your cock?
KV: Average Asian, so not that big.
PG: Okay. I have to say, in the interest of full disclosure, and I don't know why, I guess sometimes I run off at the mouth here and I get honest when it's completely unnecessary. The first time that I saw a picture of a lady boy I was like wow, that kind of turns me on. It freaked me out because –--
KV: Because he looks like a woman.
PG: He totally looks like a woman. And then there's this penis on it and it didn't kill the deal for me. It didn't make me want to go seek one out, but it stirred something in me that really kind of made me kind of feel… I don't know, like, are you gay and you just don't know it? I've heard that there are a lot of guys who are turned on by lady boys and that doesn't mean they're gay.
KV: I guess this is—-you know—me, but I just don't think that it's that weird because look at this exotic creatures. It looks like a lady but it has a penis like I have a penis. I mean I see the draw. I don't think it's weird but I am weird.
PG: Yes, you are weird. So why did they think you are a lady-boy, I wonder.
KV: Well, I'm much taller than most Laotian people. My features, especially with makeup can sometimes seem like put on a little bit, and I have huge tits and I think... They're natties, but I think they might have looked really fake. I didn’t intend to go to a fancy wedding when I went to Laos. So all I had were boots, which made me taller at the wedding. And I heard them talk about me when I was in the bathroom stall.
PG: What did they say?
KV: They said that I was a kathoey, which is lady-boy.
PG: Did you start laughing?
KV: As I'm squatting there, because it's not a full toilet, squatting, trying to like pee into this hole.
PG: Oh my God oh my God, that's hilarious. One of the funny things about being a standup comedian is that sometimes you'd be in the bathroom in the stall between shows, and you would hear people talking about -- people who are leaving from the first show, and you would hear the unfiltered opinion of what they really thought of you and you know if they said something bad about you, you would just stay in the stall until they left. I never had the balls to come out and you know --
KV: I mean, for everyone involved you're at the most vulnerable when you're in a bathroom stall. Maybe we should save this for later [laughs].
PG: So you're a lady boy --
KV: No no no --
PG: And you've got a large Asian penis.
KV: I said average.
PG: I don't really listen to my guests. So I apologize if I get some of this wrong. Governor of Minnesota.
KV: Why are you doing this podcast?
PG: I figure there aren't enough podcasts out there. Speaking of which, by the way, you and Howard Kramer do this podcast called Who Charted? For those of you would never listened to it, it's a really great podcast. It's very funny and you guys go through -- each episode you cover what are the top five things charting. It could be the Billboard charts, it could be what movies are out there, or you it could be some really obscure chart and you guys kind of riff.
KV: We use the real charts just to kind of launch into interviewing our guests.
PG: And at the end of most of the episodes, Howard has an alter ego called Dragon Boy Suede who will do funny original hip-hop songs that are fucking great.
KV: They are so good.
PG: They are so good. Howard is -- Both of you guys are so talented.
KV: Thank you very much.
PG: His songs are just totally should be offensive, but they're not.
KV: They are weirdly charming.
PG: Weirdly charming. That kind of describes Howard. Weird is too strong of a word, but he is just unique and funny and super nice and I just love your show so I invite everybody who hasn't listed to Who Charted? Not that you need listeners because you guys are going gangbusters --
KV: We're greedy. The more the merrier.
PG: So your parents were Laotian, your mom was kind of-- both your parents were stuck in a situation that they both want to get out of – this was the mid-70s?
KV: Late 70s.
PG: Late 70s.
KV: Late 70s. And then -- so what separates Laos from Thailand was that Thailand was of more a free state, capitalist state for a very long time, stayed out of the wars, for the most part. And the Mekong River splits the two. Their plan was in the dark of night to cross the Mekong to Thailand. My mom couldn't swim, so she had my father pull her across with an inner tube. Now the other factor was --
PG: Was she pregnant at this time?
KV: She was not.
KV: And so they ended up going to a refugee camp and that's where I was conceived.
KV: Another back story I know will apply to what we get into later is that my mom was the oldest of about ten kids and her mom around this time died in childbirth. So as the --
PG: My God.
KV: So as the oldest, it was expected of her to go home to Savannakhet where her family is and take care of her siblings. And she chose to leave. That was another reason why she left.
PG: So was that culturally considered a no-no, or would most people have said, listen, the country was falling and they had to get out of there.
KV: No. She was turning her back on her family.
PG: Did she have guilt about that?
KV: I think she does; this was something that really didn't come up until the last time I went to Laos, which was 2007 and you know, I learned a lot on that trip back home too, just that things went really poorly for my family.
PG: How many times have you been back?
KV: I've been back twice.
PG: The last time, you said, was '07.
KV: '07, yeah. Apparently my step grandma was kind of -- as my grandma was getting sick, my step-grandma was kind of circling around and like kind of insinuating herself within the family already before she even died, and then when my -–
PG: Was your dad a catch?
KV: My grandfather? He was, he was. He used to be the head of the Red Cross. He was well known in our village. And so my grandma passed, and so he remarried pretty quickly. For him there were not many options for all the kids that he had. And so my step-grandma was supposed to take care of the baby but she was really cruel to it, like she burned its head and stuff. So he had to give the baby away. It was dark shit that happened.
KV: Yeah, it's like evil grandmother, like evil step-grandma.
PG: Was it her baby?
PG: So that's why she –
KV: He gave it away to like some family member. She was raised completely separate. But then like I feel like she is treated pretty separate.
PG: That would've been your mom's sister.
KV: My mom's sister.
PG: Did they ever find each other? Did they reconnect?
KV: Yeah, they're in the same village. It's so weird.
PG: Oh wow.
KV: Yeah, it's bizarre. My mom's side of the family is so bizarre. Why is she treated differently? I don't know. I could go on and on about her family.
PG: I interviewed Teresa Strasser a couple of weeks ago and her stepmother was very threatened by the close relationship that Teresa had with her father and she convinced Teresa's father that if she didn't get Teresa out of the house – Teresa is three at this point – that he would molest her.
PG: At three, feeling threatened by this three-year-old taking too much attention from her. People do crazy shit for love, or what they think is love in reality.
KV: Or what security means to her. The children that she had she had one son with my grandfather, my uncle. They were held up on high, and the ten kids that happened before were treated less than and like ate second or whatever was left, basically, education-wise, money-wise to help them as they got married and all of that.
PG: Did they resent the child? The baby?
KV: The baby was taken away, so that was no longer a problem. The step grandma's two kids they came with her and the new baby that came so yeah there was resentment.
PG: What do you mean, the new baby was taken away?
KV: I'm sorry, the baby that my natural grandmother had –
PG: The burned one –
KV: Yeah, she was given away so that wouldn't be a problem. So then when step-grandma had her own child with my grandfather, he was held up high too. It's just --
PG: There are few things that drive people, I think, my opinion, few people that drive people to act as crazy as neediness disguised as love, what people think is love, but in reality is really just fear and neediness and --
KV: And control.
PG: And control. This illusion that if I can control the situation, I'll be okay and in reality it's almost always makes our lives worse. The ability to try to control things that can't be controlled.
KV: All of the energy that is put into that instead of breathing through it and letting things be. Yeah, that's definitely something that I struggle with.
PG: We'll get to how you cope with it. Before we get there, I want to get to your childhood. So your parents swim across the Mekong River to a Thai refugee camp, then they were brought here as refugees. You had a sponsor family in Minnesota: the Danielsons, is that correct?
KV: That's right
PG: And you lived with them for how long?
KV: I lived with them for -- this is now we've got to Minnesota.
PG: Which has a large Laotian population
KV: An especially large Hmong population. I lived with them until I was about three. They were this American family, a Baptist family, a mom and a dad, whom I called Aunt Julie and Uncle Ron, who I do, and they had four boys who are like my brothers. They really imprinted in me this need I have to have male friends and male others. I seek that out.
PG: That's very comforting to you.
KV: That is very comforting to me, to the point where up till the last three years do I actually have female friends.
PG: Do you think they were threatened by female companionship or didn't trusted or was it that the male companionship was that much more alluring?
KV: All of that, and that has to do with my very tumultuous relationship with my mother.
PG: Should we get into that now?
KV: Might as well. I don't speak to my parents right now.
PG: How long has it been?
KV: I think it's been realistically about a year, since my youngest sister's high school graduation. But like before that we didn't. I went home to Minnesota. I didn't have much conversation even before that. I mean, it's been no conversation since June 2010, so...
PG: Was there a specific incident led to that or did you just kind of hit a wall?
KV: Oh, man, there's just so much.
PG: Nothing can make you take a deep breath like family. Nothing
KV: Oh boy, weird weird weird. We never had a chance. My parents and I, we learned English at the same time. Then I surpassed them.
PG: Which I think most children do.
KV: And I made fun of them for not knowing it. And they made fun of me for not knowing Laos. We always had a very antagonistic relationship.
PG: Was it good-spirited fun, or was I want to hurt you fun?
KV: I was hit as a child. I was hit. Part of it was just going up in Minnesota so white. My sponsor family was white too, and I preferred their food. I preferred company, I preferred their rules and I have never not said it. When I was a kid I could be a real brat about it.
PG: Did you ever wish you were white?
KV: Yes. Absolutely. I wish --
PG: Could you talk about that? Being a little girl and wishing you were somebody else?
KV: The Danielsons were really stable, you know. There was mom and dad. And they made chocolate chip cookies and I could eat the dough and we would go to church, and there were presents and always the house was filled with activity because there were four boys and I got a lot of attention. I didn't like Lao food. I didn't like stir-fries and shrimp and all that stuff and I really resisted eating it. And for my parents coming from having so little … they owned a home within five years they owned a home. They owned a business.
PG: Within moving to America?
PG: They must be incredibly hard-working.
KV: Yes. Incredibly hard-working. They owned a business. They had a Thai restaurant. So here they are with these great abundance and I didn't want. I don't want it. The arguments that we had about what I wanted versus what they wanted down to like school says that we should brush her teeth after you eat, and they were like no you do what we want, and we want you to do it the way we want, when you get up and we had huge fights over that, over like how to eat string cheese. I would pull it apart and my mom would say you're playing with my food and to eat it like a carrot. I would cry eating string cheese.
PG: Will it be fair to call your mother, controlling?
KV: Yeah, absolutely.
PG: More than the average mother you think, or is it hard to say because you have nothing to compare it to?
KV: It's hard to say that they don't have anything – but yeah, she's controlling she's definitely controlling. And you know my name is Kulap and Vilaysack and it's like a one-two punch in regards to roll call. And you don't want to be different. Also, when we moved to our home when I was five, the first week we moved in the teenagers from the neighborhood thought we were I believe Vietnamese and shot BBs through our window and put a flaming bag of shit and like ding-dong-ditched because they thought we were –I forget what racial slur they thought we were – it was a go back to your country kind of thing and me and my great-grandfather. My great-grandfather was near the window, and so that could been really horrible. And that was like my first experience in the neighborhood. And watching my dad chase them in a van as they ran in the snow. So it's like, yeah, I don't want to be this different. I wish my name was like Samantha or Britney from Alvin and the Chipmunks. That's what I wanted.
PG: I don’t know any kids who were happy with who they were. I remember hearing this beautiful woman when you think of the epitome of the American blond beauty was talking at my house, and she wished that she had dark curly hair. It never ends. And I think that it is easy to believe that myth when you are from another country, and people are shooting BBs at your window. That probably makes it seem like I be happy if only I were --
KV: I wanted to live -- The Danielson's wanted to adopt me and I remember feeling the conflict when I was really young feeling conflict between my mom –
PG: How many siblings do you have at this point?
PG: It was just you.
KV: Just me.
PG: The three of you living with the Danielson's for the first four years.
KV: We were in an apartment in Minneapolis for some time in between. But yeah, I was really sad. They still were a part of my life; I would go there over the weekends and stuff but I remember the strain between them. And I can't imagine what it was like for my mom to know that I would rather be with them there with her.
PG: Were the four boys near your age?
KV: No, they were older. Much older
PG: I remember the feeling that I had on my block. There were like four girls, they were about four or five years older than me and it was a sleeping in a van with them going to the beach was just like magical. Theirs was like another world that I knew nothing about. They were beautiful. The way they smelled, the way they looked and it when you're an only child or a boy that doesn't have any sisters or a girl that doesn't have any brothers I think it has this mystique to it and you can't get enough of it. Does that kind of ring true?
KV: Definitely. I always feel like an outsider
PG: So there were a lot of Laotians?
KV: I think immigrants tended to try to find other immigrants. There are like Lao markets and a temple and festivals and stuff. You try to have a little Laos in America. They can let their hair down and speak the language and eat the food, and I just never -- I mean I was super awkward and always been nerdy and awkward and back then really gangly and I always have my own ideas about fashion and how my hair should be. Looking back, it's just embarrassing. I always felt I was felt like an outsider never super liked, kind of made fun of.
PG: But you had some English under your belt before you got into school.
KV: It was completely English.
PG: So you were fluent by the time you got into --
KV: I rejected speaking Lao for most-- like up until grade school. I mean it's part of the conflict I don't want to talk your stupid language.
PG: But it probably helped you survive place such a premium on English
KV: I never thought about it that way. ESL kids were treated less than
PG: What's ESL?
KV: English as a Second Language. So they actually had separate classes and stuff.
PG: You were starting to say something else before I--
KV: That idea of not fitting in or being made fun of were being different, even within the Laotian culture. I was kind of filling in the back story. When I was with was 14, I found out that my dad was not my real dad. And I found that out because my parents had a very tumultuous – my parents have a horrifying relationship. Their marriage is like a dead horse that they insist on dancing around and making me and my siblings watch. It's really bad and I'm sure we'll get into that even further. This is a good illustration of it. They got into a fight. My mom wanted to talk to me about it and wanted me to be sympathetic to her and I sided with my dad as I was often to do and I always thought I was more like my dad. And she got super pissed off at me and looked me straight in my face and said, "why are you defending him? He's not your real father."
PG: Oh my God.
KV: And I was like [gasp]. And she was so red from anger, and then just drained because she really knew what she did at that point. And then she tried to backtrack and by then I had run out to my dad and said dad, this is what mom said, and I saw his face. It was all true In his face and I just took off. Like it was it had been raining were very wet and like I didn't put my shoes on and just ran just ran into it was tired and then I didn't know what to do. And I sort of wandered back and then my uncle's truck was in the driveway and I was kind of lay there until my dad came and got me.
PG: Oh my God.
KV: And he told me know this is not how I wanted you to find out. This is not -- I love you and you always my daughter. And he just put me to bed and I was hysterical.
PG: The knowledge that somebody who you thought was your parent isn't your parent certainly painful but to find out. It seems to me. What's more painful is the way your mom threw at you.
KV: Yeah. It was very in line with how --
PG: Things were used.
PG: Information became weapons.
PG: Intimacy just kind of dies.
KV: Words became weapons.
KV: I could jump into another story.
PG: Please do. Whatever order you think --
KV: Just to finish with my mom. You know she just like shoots her mouth off like it's like a machine gun and she just, there's never --
PG: Somebody else yesterday. It was just like a machine gun never -- sometimes I just want to scream, "Do you ever shut your fucking mouth?"
KV: And if it's not, then it's like I'm not going to stop what I'm doing, I'm not going to change my behavior, but I'm going to do something to sort of wipe it down, pushing it in and she came to me. She woke me up because I was so exhausted and I went to bed and she woke me up that night. It was like I want you to talk to somebody and I was like what an apparently my bio dad. He had been --
PG: Must have been in the refugee camp --
KV: He was the one who pulled my mom across -- my bio dad. He was the one who came with her to America, and who was with the Danielsons. And then I heard from my mom's friend, that he didn't want a baby and I don't know if it's true, but he kicked her in the stomach when she was pregnant. It's probably true, it would be in line with my family history. But he didn't want to be a father or be tied down when they were in Minnesota, so he took off. My father --
PG: you are too young to remember
KV: My mom's like, don't you remember when you were two and you stood up in the courtroom and you pointed to who your father was when your dad adopted you? I said like no, your mind doesn't remember that stuff because it would not make sense with your reality.
PG: Not at two.
KG: And if I remembered that then I would have lived like I had under the assumption that my dad was my real dad.
KV: So he took off.
PG: Where was your dad when mom was living with this guy who impregnated her? Had they broken up? Was he just in Laos?
KV: My real dad or my bio?
PG: Your real dad. Because your parents were married at that point, but she was impregnated by somebody –
KV: Just to – and this is kind of confusing – but my real dad didn't come into the picture until after my bio left my mom in Minnesota. I know it's confusing.
PG: Oh. I thought they were married and she cheated on him in the refugee camp.
KV: No, no.
PG: So I see. He wasn't even in your life -
KV: He wasn't in my life.
KV: It's all very confusing, I know.
PG: I understand it now, but that's part of what makes it so easy just to go drink or act out or shop or whatever it is to avoid that pain because so often it's messy and there are questions left unanswered that you don't feel comfortable asking somebody about and to just go in there with your iPhone earbuds get all tangled up and it's 15 minutes of trying to undo them to me, family stuff is like that times 1000 buried our stomach and it's just much easier to get high, than to reach out in their try to untangle all that stuff.
KV: For me it's always just to hurt myself and how I think about myself and feel about myself.
PG: Can you talk about that a little bit?
KV: What I wanted to say to us at my bio dad had a brother who lived in Mountain Lake Minnesota, which is about an hour south and before I do it. I want to show the phone at me and I was speaking to my uncle died never known before, and he's talking to me about how he wants to meet me and I want to talk to her cousin, I've never heard of before. Is completely and totally--
PG: How old were you at this point?
KV: I was 14. And again, I just been woken up after the news is not been more than two hours, probably, at that point, and I am talking to these people I do not know, and they're making plans and want to meet me, OK, sure. I'm calling my sponsor parents are talking to my sponsor parents and them telling me about you know because they knew this whole time, you know what, everybody knew but me, and the feeling of being an outsider and that everybody was talking about me. They were, they were and then the meeting time to meet my new family passed, and I asked about it. More time passed, and then it comes out that my bio dad who had moved to California at some point had kids there, then apparently was kicked out of the country for tax embezzlement and now lives in Laos and has at least a son. There was another wife. My bio uncle contacted him. Bio dad since don't speak to her in case she wants me to give her money. So now I never knew this man, I didn't want to know this man, this was never my choice. But now I'm being rejected by him, and that is just like --
PG: A triple kick --
KV: Yeah, to the face.
PG: By the way, here's a person who does want anything to do with you and he's your dad – your bio dad. And this is not to be confused with the Paulie Shore movie Bio Dad.
PG: I don't really pay attention, Kulap. Details are for nerds.
KV: Hey man, I'm a nerd.
PG: So you're 14.
PG: You've been told that your dad is not your actual dad and your actual dad doesn't want anything to do with you.
KV: Yeah. Yeah. And to go back to where I was going to go before when we were going to talk about using words as bullets. I used to – I was hit, and that is how people in Laos discipline their kids: they hit their kids. There was a time I desperately wanted friends and this will go back to you know being an outsider. I remember giving a $20 bill to a girl in class and her eyes lit up and we were friends for that day and then she came to me and was like my friend would also like money. Well okay. I think this is first grade. So I proceeded to I think at least twice steal money from my from my mom and give it to these kids. Until, of course, one of their moms was like this girls giving –
PG: Twenty dollars.
KV: My teacher cleaned out you know had to go to my desk and I was sitting there just was going to happen when I went home which was like a beating --
PG: Like spanking or beating?
KV: In this instance yeah I would spanked, I would get hit by knew it was coming so I had this thing of making it worse. And so my poor great grandfather, who almost got shot by BB guns. It was winter, and for whatever reason I pulled him outside and locked the door behind him. He had nothing to do with us, but that going to make it worse and it did. When my mom came home, my grandfather was outside, and I had locked the door.
PG: In Minnesota in winter.
KV: In Minnesota in winter and you know he's basically just wearing monk's robes and a hat.
PG: How long were you out there for?
KV: I don't know how long he was out there for.
PG: Weren't you out there with him?
KV: No. I shoved him outside of the house and stayed inside.
PG: You stayed inside. Oh my God.
KV: Just make it that much worse. My mom hit me so I used to have bloody noses a lot, but even a tap would just make that flow. Both my thighs were black by the time she was done pinching me.
KV: Yeah, yeah. This type of thing would continue on until about the summer before we were going to Laos. The summer before fifth grade. And she had bought me a Swatch watch to keep time for our trip and we went to her friend's house and I had taken it off because it was sweaty and I left it in the room and then I couldn't find it. And I called my mom's friend and I said could you look for that watch for me and I don't want my mom to get mad at me, please don't tell her and of course they told her and she wailed on me. She started beating me into there were other people in the house and stuff and I just had enough. So I went to my neighbor's house and I called the police on her. I wasn't taken away, but like that was enough that they never hit me again.
PG: Oh really?
KV: But instead what changed was the verbal.
PG: I was going to say ,,,
KV: Something had to take the place of it, so …
PG: What were the kinds of things that she would say to you?
KV: Our game, our horrible terrifying game I would often talk back which always made things worse. Our game was that I wouldn't say anything and it wouldn't affect me. She's a screamer too. Our game would be for her to just say a horrifying thing like I found you in a garbage can. You're a piece of shit. I'll put you on a plane to Laos. This was garden-variety but then I would just sit there stone-faced and if I were to cry or get mad then that would be her winning, in my mind at least, so this behavior is just something I'm trying to stop basically when I'm upset or when I'm angry, just kind of holding it in and not breathing. Yeah it's like -- My sisters were born nine and eleven years younger than I am.
PG: That's a big gap.
KV: I didn't know until I was 14 that they were my half-sisters but I was -- it was my duty to take care of them and…
PG: How did your dad look at you? Did he treat you less than your sisters because you weren't biologically his?
KV: I don't think so. I don't think he did.
PG: Did you have a better relationship with your dad than your mom?
KV: I had a better relationship with him. He was somebody who is scary in his own way. My mom is like cannons, always yelling and screaming and things being thrown and horrible things being said -- to everybody, though. With my dad I wouldn't argue as much and when he gets mad he's just so scary that I just would shut up, you know.
PG: So there wasn't a desire to get back at your dad; he was just scarier than your mom. Your mom you felt you could tangle with but your dad you kind of felt --
PG: I don't want to escalate with this guy.
KV: No not at all, and pretty early on I've been in the middle of them and their problems where one would tell me the other --
PG: I fucking hate that so much. My mom did that with me and my dad didn't confide in anybody but my mom confided in me quite a bit and would tell me how rotten my father was and how she was going to leave him but you know she couldn't because she had me and these kids and I was like fucking 10 years old are you dumping all this me. And I know they didn't have the tools back then blah blah blah blah blah. That doesn't make it right. It's just so draining.
KV: That's essentially why I don't speak to them now. I've tried and they don't – they put me in the middle between two of them.
PG: Divorce so often does that to kids. They use their kids as pawns and it just makes me sick, being kind of used against each parent.
KV: My sisters are much younger than I am and I was their babysitter, I took them to soccer, I cooked for them. I was expected to clean the house, to get good grades, to the laundry to clean, you know
PG: Because your parents were busy with the restaurant?
KV: Sure, I worked in that restaurant you know. I was a dishwasher at eight; I was a server at 11. By seventh grade they had sold the restaurant and then they both had jobs but my mom would be too lazy or my parents would be too tired to do it. It was like on me, like that was my duty. The irony is that my mom left her duty with her family which would mirror me leaving once I was 18 to go to California to see what I could do out here but they always fought. They would always have horrible scary fights, really inappropriate fights.
PG: Do you think that the way they acted towards each other was considered inappropriate by community standards where they were from or was that kind of culturally accepted?
KV: Hm. I think how it would be different culturally is that my mom was so aggressive, like I think she would have been like – and I'm not making this as a judgment of like because my mom's assertiveness is both negative and positive but she definitely would have been put in her place in Laos.
PG: They didn’t care for Gloria Steinem too much in Laos?
KV: But she has always been the breadwinner. Honestly, like, the thing is like my mother is very ambitious and my dad was just kind of like salt of the earth and there was always conflict about that. Also, my dad was a drinker and my mom was a gambler. Like a lot of my memories are just being in cold sitting on cold concrete floors while a bunch of Lao people were playing cards and waiting for her to be done doing that and just sitting there waiting being alone.
PG: Are you sure you're not thinking of the movie The Deer Hunter? Didn’t you hear one of them say Mao and there was a lot of slapping? [KP laughs.] How awful would that have been -– how awkward if you had not found that funny. [KP laughs.] You know that’s my fear that I will have a guest here one of these times and I am going to overstep—actually I have overstepped that boundary with a guest in the past.
KV: You have?
PG: It wasn’t somebody I know as well as I know you but I don't want to get into that. I want to stick with this thing.
KV: Listeners, tweet Paul about who that guest was.
PG: Well that episode hasn't aired and I might never air it. I'm not sure but that's another whole can of –-
KV: Got real?
PG: I thought because this person had written a book that was very open and honest and graphic at certain points, and because our paths had crossed over the years I thought that I knew her and it -– she was – she felt insulted by the tone of some of the questions that I asked, she thought they were too sexual and just filled me with just total shame and I don't know where the truth lies and it's like that thing that I've talked about with the words all tangled up and I don't want to go back in there and try to sort it out because I don't know where the truth is and I want a payoff; if I'm going to do something I want to know that it will be worth it and one of my worst fears is that I am going to waste my time doing something. And then I'll be even worse off than I was before I wasted my time. So you're in this household where you are being pitted against each other by your parents. You're an actor so obviously you probably had an active imagination. What was your fantasy life? What were you dreaming of?
KV: Moving. Moving away.
KV: Anywhere. I just wanted to be out of there. I definitely ran away once to my sponsor family. Just away from my parents and you know my responsibilities. I had so many responsibilities. I love, love my sisters, but it was really hard. I remember being cruel to them sometimes just because of my responsibility. I remember my youngest sister wouldn't stop crying and I think she was little older than a toddler and I remember just like being so frustrated that she wouldn't shut up that I picked her up and threw her on the bed. It is something I have great shame about.
PG: Have you ever talked about it before?
KV: Yeah. I'm really like --In our family we don't talk.
PG: You were also only a child.
KV: Yeah, but they were younger.
PG: But you were still a child. You know saddling, a child with the responsibilities of an adult and then expecting them -- and to not any kind of support system for that kid emotionally and then expecting them -- Listen to you, putting pressure on yourself with acted like an adult when you were a child.
KV: Tissues please.
PG: Would you like a Kleenex? Have you to been able to get to the point where you are able to feel some compassion for yourself for the mistakes you made? I don't know if it's even fair to call them mistakes. What child wouldn't have snapped or lashed out in anger? Did you think you were a bad person for a long time because you did that?
KV: I think one of the things I have gone through extensive -- the last three weeks years I've been calling it "the wellness train." I think -- I know -- I know --I know that I am a good person. There is something and you that all sounds like a good idea that I am a good person. I suspect that I'm a monster and in those moments and in those moods I am worthless and I deserve everything that is bad and it is in those moods and in those shadows that it's really hard to not see anything beyond that and those are the times when as gregarious and as people-friendly as I am that the blinds are drawn, I am by myself, and I cannot talk to anyone.
PG: Do you ever get suicidal?
KV: I have in the past when I lived with my parents I did. But I always thought, I did always think that there's something beyond what my situation was and I had gotten a taste here and there. Again, I started working at a young age for my mom and then you know for other people when I turned 14 and it was legal I would work and I would be with other people to see how their lives and wanting to have something of my own. I really have set up my personality to be in spite of them, in contrast, but to such should be extreme that it's almost as if there in the past has not been choice. Right now I am in the process of figuring out who I am naturally. Not that Kulap is opposite. I don't gamble because my mom gambles. I don't yell because they yelled but sometimes you have to yell and sometimes when there is conflict you have to deal with it so that's where I'm at. I am trying to figure out who am I really. It's been really hard. And again I know that there something on the other side and that's why I suspect that and that's why…
PG: It sounds like you got glimpses of that other side. Two years. Have you been going to therapy? Is that what you've been doing?
KV: Okay. Therapy I started in '07 when I got engaged and when I called my parents separately and let them know my great news and they both were like "that's good your mother did this blah blah blah." Just immediately I just was like I am not going to poison … I am not… My fear of repeating this, to poison … my relationship with my husband which is the best thing to happen to me and I am not going to do this so I started therapy. I do a lot of things. There is something called the Grinberg method which is a little cuckaroo. I will give you and your listeners that. It is an Israeli like kind of hard-core wellness training. It deals with fear and old stuff that's in your body and that is kind of what we're talking about. How I react to things and how I am in reality and sometimes it's based just in my past and not just in my head but in my body.
PG: I believe that. I believe that it gets embedded into the cellular level and I think a lot of times when people have chronic back pain and stuff like that I do believe that sometimes it's stuff that we're holding in emotionally.
KV: Yeah it's a lot about breathing which through this training realize I stop breathing. I will just not breathe especially when I'm worried or scared or anxious I don't breathe. And when there's a conflict I go to this place I go into my head often like how that much I go into my head here and I'm not here with you miss things or there are moods that I get where --
PG: People say where were you for the last five minutes? How did you not hear that?
KV: And you always think and I always think that no one can tell. Everyone can tell.
PG: You have that far off look in your eyes and even when someone is talking to you, you can sometimes tell when somebody's not there. Alcoholics and addicts are classic examples of that because they are so self-centered and full of fear they are rarely present, and alcohol and drugs are sometimes you know the only primitive tool that they have that can get them into the present moment and as fucked-up and blunt of a tool it is, in some way works, you know, until it stops working.
KV: Until it doesn’t work.
PG: So are you getting some good results from the Grinberg method? Can you spell the Grinberg?
KV: Sure, it's G-R-I-N-B-R-G. It's an Israeli method based on the teachings of Avi Grinberg.
PG: His name was spelled that way? GRINBRG?
PG: I thought wow, he must've come from a poor family since he couldn't afford the E. And you're feeling like it's paying some dividends?
KV: It is. I started doing privates with the practitioner and it's a little at first--
PG: How did you find this?
KV: Good friends of mine had found it through other friends, and when it's a private it can be almost -- it can seem almost and I'm exaggerating but witchypoo you sit on a table and she looks at your feet and she tells you about you. What, from my feet? And that's just the beginning. It's just like she knows what is happening in your body where you hold stress then it's talking through problems. And in those privates it's like if you have something that you're bothered by that you talk about and it's a belief that we don't stop things. We start things but we don't stop to think so where do they go. They stay within. Right away she know that I have a lot of anger and I have a lot of rage which I called "the monster" or "the void" or whatever; it's so much of my energy I push down because it's been my experience from my mom that if you unleash that you know it's horrible and you're horrible. The things of my mom said to me I will never forget and so I–
PG: What were some of the worst ones that you can remember? I mean you shared some ones that were awful but were there some other ones that really hurt you?
KV: Man, a lot of it was in Lao.
PG: I do that to. When I yell at people I go into Lao.
KV: It’s effective.
PG: It's a naturally mean language and that’s why I like it.
KV: As far as I've known it, it is. I have a really hard time like
PG: Has it been hard for you to embrace Lao culture because you've had such a negative experience with it?
PG: Do you think you ever get to a point where you can embrace it and love it?
KV: I want to. The country was beautiful. The knowledge of it for my family and also again when I was bad my parents would threaten to send me to Laos to live with my grandfather. That's like ingrained. How do you stop that? You think it's bad right now, we're going to send you to Laos and then I would cry.
PG: And it worked.
KV: And it worked.
PG: You describe that monster and rage inside you. If you were to get in touch with that and let it out, what are some of the things that he would -- forget about the repercussions of hurting anybody's feelings.
KV: If someone gave me permission? If I could just have permission…
PG: Say you could have permission, what with the things that you would say or do to sound like?
KV: I would eviscerate. I'd go for the jugular. I would physically harm.
PG: Can you get specific?
KV: I guess, what would the situation be? Abuse? Fighting? It's really hard because I go maybe I took that wrong I don't and maybe that was my fault and I walked away and live with that and don't address it at the point at where it happened and then I walk away and even if that was fucked up, that moment is passed.
PG: Why is it you think you are afraid of addressing you don't want to get into it don't think you're worth it don't how to do it or you don't want to be disliked?
KV: I have a hard time with conflict. I don't want to say the wrong thing. I don't want to go too far. I think that somehow it is my fault that I'm in that place. I don't want to not be liked and then to me that I worry about the escalation like my house like how it was at my house. It's hard when you --I was hit and even though it stopped around fifth grade just what was said hurt so much. My mom has called me like a slut and a whore and like my dad has too, like I owe them and I'm bad and that I'm worthless and you know so much of my fear is that they're right. That's what that monster is: that I am selfish and sometimes I know everything, that I know better or that I'm better than people. I do feel that way sometimes and this is just proof that I am what they say I am. That's something that I wrestle with a lot and that's that moment when like I can't tell if that's my shit or if that happened and the whole thing with Grinberg has helped me is if you stop things and you really get as mad as you can away from people that you will be a clean vessel to address what is happening in reality.
PG: I have a friend who I think might have done that. He like went out into the desert with a baseball bat and hit like, you know, a dummy and said what he wanted to say to his you know his mom. Is that kind of similar to that, or is that something else?
KV: Yeah, I mean it's similar in the sense that like for a private session I be like in just like my underwear initially and she'd be over me looking at me where I'm breathing deal with like I have a lot of guilt about my sisters, leaving, and that I didn't protect them from my mom and from my parents. Anything that would happen to them was because I wasn't there and it's very ego-driven and arrogant, I'm sure. And so she would go in your body and say what's the worst that could happen and I'd say it like they die or they won't be happy that really feel that in your body and heighten it, contract it contract it, contract it, let your body completely feels that and then let it go. In that you're fully expressing what for me is you know it's fine, put your head up, it's like don't be angry don't be sad but the fake for a long time this fake, not feeling shut it down and be even right because if you spike then you're your mom.
PG: Or you're going to draw attention to yourself
PG: Or people aren't going to like you. You're an angry person inside of you. The freedom that I've managed to get in my life from has had to come from the feeling that pain that I've run though that I didn't want to feel. One of them was abandoned as a kid. Whether that was the truth or not I think it probably was but I don't think it matters. What's important is
KV: Allowing it.
PG: Allowing it, giving credence to that feeling so that you do something with it. So often what fucks us up is I'd be a pussy if I did this or I'm spoiling myself or I'm being a baby by giving any credence to this. Just accept the fact that you are feeling that feeling and you need to do something with it, process it in a way that's helpful to get on the other side of it, if you're ever going to get on the other side.
KV: Especially with like the Grinberg and it's helped me with like their views on fear that we view fear as being negative and something needs to be avoided at all costs. We spend a lot of energy not dealing with it but in Grinberg you use fear. Fear is positive. Let it flow through your body so that it moves you. Like an animal or in children. In animals you know when there's fear; like when a gazelle sees a predator the first thing is that the body moves so that they void themselves so they can move fast. You don't just stay, and for the longest time for me like you know I would just stay put like shut down in that space and I go behind like in my body physically there but you know if I was in something you I would it was almost as if in my mind everything would be smoky and you would be behind a very thick pane of glass. I won't hear you fully, sort of understand you and not getting up like when people argue I'll just sit there. I'm so used to it. Like instead of going I don't need to be around this. That's choice
PG: I don't care if I look rude. I'm going to take care of myself.
PG: You know, that's really interesting that about fear, not wanting to avoid it completely but acknowledging and letting it through you but not paralyze you.
PG: I've never thought of that.
KV: And like frustration. You need frustration because it makes you go like this is right this is now how I want it. I want it differently. Move forward. Frustration is sadness.
PG: Is there a place for acceptance in the Grinberg method?
KV: I think so, yeah. Well I guess how would that… Describe it for me.
PG: If you don't have any control over, I think, if you're going to have any hold on sanity, I think there has to be a willingness and capability to recognize what you're powerless over, and to accept it. Not to approve of it but to accept it as it is. What you can change, work to change it, stay out of the results of the things you have any control over.
KV: Absolutely and definitely it's like getting out of your head and into your body into reality. Into your body is into what's happening now and realized that just going through your life going through what are the routines that I do that are about me not present. So much of it is about being in the body and being present.
PG: It's so amazing how important so simple as being present in breathing, remembering to breathe deeply. Sometimes say nothing. Sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing. And sometimes you need to act but sometimes it's so hard to know. But talking about fears maybe this is a way to dovetail into a Fear-off. I was telling Kulap as she came in the door I got an email last night from a guy named James. He says, "Dear Paul: I couldn't sleep last night so I listened to the Teresa Strasser interview again and decided to list some of my fears. It was really touching to hear her honesty regarding suicide. Made me reconsider my own suicidal thoughts. Feel free to use these fears any way you wish." A Dead Sea scroll of fears so I have the feeling that his fears are going to outlast yours.
KV: I think so too.
PG: It's not about quantity it's just about talking about them. So I'll start off. These are all of James' fears. "I'm afraid I will never find happiness beyond my bong, even though I threw my bong out I will buy another one and start smoking again and continue to procrastinate that which will better my life."
KV: I'm afraid of being attacked.
PG: "I'm afraid that my failures will always outnumber my accomplishments and that my accomplishments are meaningless."
KV: I'm afraid of being raped.
PG: Boy that's a deep one. I think everybody – I would imagine most women probably fear that. Men probably fear that too.
KV: I think so.
PG: I can't believe I've done 29 episodes and I've read ones that readers have sent in and that's the first time anyone has voiced that one aloud.
KV: That's surprising to me.
PG: Was there any history of molestation or sexual abuse? Are you comfortable talking about that?
KV: I'll talk about one time. Or a couple of times. I forget how old I was. It was at the restaurant. My cousin, his friend, who was probably about 20, 19 or 20. His friend -- my cousin was a waiter and he was doing a shift and we used the back room as kind of like a play room and so I was there with my girl cousin and we were playing. He was giving us a lot of attention, and at one point he like kind of grabbed me and touched my boob and I --
PG: How old were you?
KV: I would guess -- I started developing in the fourth grade so I would guess around then. Third or fourth grade. And I was like -- that made me jump back and it wasn't funny anymore and like me and my cousin ran into the back storage closet. I was like that was messed up in my cousin was like yeah we came back and confronted him and said that was not good what you did and he just kind of laughed at me. And then I told my mom about it and she said it was my fault.
PG: On my God.
KV: And that we shouldn't tell my dad, and that we shouldn't say anything about it, and so I don't know.
PG: Look what happens and the lesson you learn when you do stand up for yourself and your mom tells you you are wrong.
KV: [Sings] Is it any wonder why I feel this way?
PG: Oh my God. And to me that your mom is saying that is 100 times worse than that guy touching your boob, as bad as that is, you know, a guy doing that to a kid. He's a stranger but your mom should protect you and should comfort you and should--
KV: She never really did that, protect or comfort. My mom gave love with strings attached, with monetary things like her way of showing affection was to buy something for you but then to take it away when she was displeased with you. That's how she showed affection.
PG: Which is ultimate control which I bet probably drove her desire to be ambitious and then she would have power.
KV: Yeah. In all my life she was like that; if you don't like it, leave. And when I did I think it really shook her to the core. It really really did.
PG: That must have felt so empowering, though, when you left. How free did you feel?
KV: I felt free, but then I was mad with power because when I was 18 and I moved to go to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising it came out that my dad had been cheating on my mom with his cousin's wife and then that was when it was just them both calling me and putting me in the middle but I was mad with they're both listening to me and I can fix this and finally listening to me. They didn't listen to me before and they are hearing what I'm saying and are taking my advice horrible time and it got infinitely worse.
KV: Infinitely worse. So yeah. Your turn. [Laughter] Am I winning?
PG: You said there was another one. Was there another one you wanted to --
KV: this was just kind of being trespassed and allowed and allowing it to happen. It was kind of like a series of-- I've always had— because of that -- something it happened earlier which I'm not comfortable talking about. My sexuality is the very confusing. Again, I developed when I was really young fourth grade, and people --
PG: That's crazy young
KV: And I have huge boobs now, 34DD.
PG: For those keeping score.
KV: But old men used find me attractive, but no one in my class ever did until I came to California.
PG: And you were how old?
KV: 18. So there is kind of just a series of like employers and roommates' fathers that would make overtures and my instinct was always to not make them feel bad, to sit there and wait until they were done propositioning me, politely leave, and feel horrible but my fear was that I would make them feel bad or ashamed.
PG: Better for you to allow yourself to be degraded and to be impolite toward someone and let them feel any sense of degradation.
KV: Yeah. Also maybe too I thought that when men felt that way they might also become violent or something like that.
PG: Yeah. I don't know how we got off on that thing. My turn.
PG: Or I should say James' turn, our listener who sent in these fears. He says, "I am afraid I will never learn from my failures and will keep on repeating them."
KV: Me too. Also of being murdered.
PG: He's afraid society will keep repeating its failure and we're all fucked because of it.
PG: "I'll never finish school because of my inability to focus."
KV: Shark attack.
PG: "I'll always hate the process of learning something new."
KV: That I won't be able to scream.
PG: That's a good one. That's a really good one. If you never had that one before
KV: It's terrifying.
PG: But in my dreams a lot of times I'm trying to yell for help and nothing comes out.
KV: That's terrifying. He's afraid that his cell phone will get shut off and he will have to find a payphone in the ghetto and he will either get mugged or catch a disease from a ghetto payphone. Or both.
KV: [Laughs]. Sorry, James.
PG: This guy's got some good ones. This guy's ninja level.
KV: That's a complex scenario. I'm afraid that I'll be ostracized, shunned by my peers.
PG: "I'm afraid I will always hate the process of learning something new."
KV: That I'll hurt those who love me.
PG: "I'll continue to get bored with everything I once enjoyed."
KV: That I'll cheat on my husband.
PG: Do you have a history of infidelity?
KV: No. But my dad cheated.
PG: So you're afraid you're kind of genetically…
KV: Even though he's not my real dad. It's weird I have to let go of this like feeling that like I come from trash therefore I am.
PG: That's got to be buried really deep.
KV: I never would I think talking now more than I ever had in a lifetime past couple of years you know you no not talking at all you know not communicating to only talking to my husband to talking to my therapist and you know I'm sharing with my friends and with people I trust which I've never done before because I haven't trusted people.
PG: It's so freeing though, isn't it, when you -- and often you find that they are so much more like you than you think, they understand you more than you think but you have some part of them to come forward when you reveal that part of yourself. For me, the most beautiful thing about doing this podcast is people are revealing parts of themselves to me that makes me feel more worthwhile, makes me feel less alone, makes me feel less fucked up, less broken, and if I keep that pain in I don't get to experience that.
KV: It was killing me and also I just-- I knew that I could take more pleasure in life.
KV: And I want to.
PG: I have to say looking from my perspective at you, you totally strike me as someone who's grabbing life by the horns. I see the things you do around town, volunteer work, things you organize, you know the collection of food for hungry people, the cleaning up the local park is going to happen on November 12. By the way, any of you listeners living in the Southern California area on November 12 at Griffith Park Ferndale area, Kulap has organized a beautification from 9 to 12 that morning.
KV: The entire East Bay community will hopefully be there.
PG: I have to say, that's really -- those initiatives that you take-- my hat is off to you. It's a really beautiful thing. To me, that's who you are. And I hope you get to a point in your life where you can see that that's what you are, not this broken monster that you picture. Let's pause the Fear-off for a second…
KV: [Laughs.] Let's pause the Fear-off. That's what you just said.
PG: Can you talk about what you feel when you're of service?
KV: Oh I feel outside of me, of my shit. That I didn't get that gig, I wasn't good enough to be hired for that show, I'm not where I'm supposed to be. I get out of that space and I project forward and I can see what color the sky is and oh wow I've never noticed that plant before. That's service to me, and to be with people that aren't in this bubble. I love my bubble, I love the UCB and the people I've met through them, but you know we all get caught up in this "business" and what Nikki Finke lets us know that "business."
PG: I'm so out of it I don't even know who that is.
KV: Yes you do. Deadline. Are you serious? Good for you.
PG: Who is Nikki Finke?
KV: She's the lady behind Deadline.com and she has the inside track on like everything that is happening in Hollywood, what deals are going down.
PG: I think I've heard her name.
KV: She's been around for a while.
PG: She hasn't come into my living room yet so I don't know her.
KV: I don't know if anyone knows what she looks like.
PG: So she's kind of --
KV: I think so.
PG: She sounds like a powerful troll. Isn't a troll someone who doesn't reveal anything about themselves but bags on other people?
KV: Yeah. I mean she's less bagging than reporting; people report to her about inside stuff. Still though… I mean adjusting general get caught up in Facebook and Twitter
PG: How many followers do I have, it's not enough, I'm a piece of shit… But your perspective changes when you're of service.
KV: Yeah, when you see people and you get to know people in your community. I really think that it's important.
PG: I do too.
KV: I didn't grow up that way and so I want to make a change and I want to start with where I live and then I want to start a movement. I think we need each other.
PG: You seem like you're on your way to finding the peace in your life you deserve.
KV: You gotta enjoy life, right?
PG: And I appreciate you inviting me to that stuff and being my friend.
KV: Of course. Thank you for having me.
PG: Whose turn is it?
KV: Your turn.
PG: James says, "I'm afraid that all my creative outlets will never produce anything that could even be remotely considered as good."
KV: I agree with that and I will also say that the love between me and my husband will run out.
PG: I've heard that one before. "I'm afraid I'll always think people are watching me and waiting for me to make a mistake."
KV: That my husband will get sick or be hurt or die.
PG: "I'll always be fearful of making a mistake and never get anywhere in my life because of that."
KV: That my dog will die.
PG: "I will always care too much about what others think of me."
KV: That I will regret not having children.
PG: "That I'll be too sensitive and take everything personally."
KV: That I will regret having children.
PG: "That I will get yet another speeding ticket and lose my driver's license."
KV: That my child will be born disabled.
PG: "That my check card will be declined even though there's money on it and make me look like a broke-ass piece of shit."
KV: That I will repeat my parents' mistakes.
PG: "The circulation my legs will get worse and my feet will always be cold even in the summer."
KV: That my child will be hurt by someone else.
PG: "I'll never find a woman that loves me for who I am."
KV: That I will kill that person.
PG: "I'll lose focus when I'm driving and inadvertently harm or kill someone and they'll sue me for all the money I don't have."
KV: That I won't fully express myself artistically.
PG: "I'll eventually lose the battle with my anxiety and depression and become a complete asshole."
KV: And finally, that I squandered my time.
PG: "I'll eventually back myself into a corner and kill myself before I can get out." I'd like to end on the darkest, saddest, note possible. [KV laughs.] Kulap Vilaysack -- did I pronounce it right-- thank you so much. Appreciate it.
KV: Yes you did. Thank you, Paul.
PG: Love me some Kulap. What a great guest. I want to thank my wife for all the great support doing the show. Thank you guys for your letters and your emails. It really helps me stay connected. If you live in the Southern California area, I'm going to be performing Saturday night at Meltdown Comics at 8 o'clock. I'm part of a show that Jimmy Dore is putting together. Meltdown Comics is in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. What else did I want to tell you? Two emails actually. One was from somebody named Mr. J.M. We mentioned electroshock therapy a couple of episodes back and were wondering whether or not that is still a valid treatment. He wrote and said that "FYI my best buddy's life was saved by electroshock therapy. It certainly had its downsides. Wiped out a week of his memory but it somehow gave him what he needed to keep from killing himself. His wife, his son, and I are glad that it was available to him. Just so you know." Thank you, Mr. J.M. for letting us know about that. One more email that I'd like to read. It comes from Anita. She writes, "Paul, wow. I happened to catch you on Sklarbro." I love any email that starts with "wow." It just goes right to my ego. "I happened to catch you on Sklarbro Country and heard you talking about the Mental Illness Happy Hour and thought I'd check it out. I just finished listening to your most recent podcast with Eddie Peppitone. I found myself laughing and crying at the same time, in a good way. I kept yelling at my husband, "This is my life, this is my life." When you said that you would just go take a nap instead of finishing a project, because you got so obsessed with how many ways it could possibly go wrong, how Eddie talked about not being able to just feed the cat because he gets distracted by other things that need to be done. I'm a stay-at-home mom who sits in a house surrounded by unfinished home improvement projects. I feel like I've battled depression my whole life. Growing up in rural North Carolina, I was surrounded by a society that saw admitting mental illness as a weakness. I've been on antidepressants for almost nine years and an very open about my condition. Therefore if I have any disagreement with a family member, I am automatically the one that is "getting emotional." I am the one with all the issues. I've been married 14 years and my husband is very supportive, but sometimes doesn't understand why I get mad when he tells me "just be happy." I am currently going through what seems to be a cyclical mental meltdown, preceded by uncontrollable acts of self-sabotage. I tend to do this about every 2 years, like clockwork. I know that you have the disclaimer that you are not a mental health professional, and that your podcast should not take the place of therapy, but this was so what I needed right now. To know that even in what seems like the darkest, most isolating moment I am not alone. Thanks, Paul. P.S.) My biggest fear is passing on my disease genetically or environmentally to my kids. Thank you for your email, Anita, and your honesty. If you're out there and you're suffering, don't put your energy into beating yourself up or obsessing about yourself. Put your energy into asking for help. And letting go. And admitting that you don't know, that you don't have all the answers. That willingness to act on that and to get out of your comfort zone is often all the answer we need to get ourselves on that path to recovery and to maybe a day where we don't yell at our teammates to stop being lazy motherfuckers. Progress, not perfection. Thanks for listening. You are not alone.